MANCHESTER, January 25 – Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini played down the significance of his side’s midweek trip to Abu Dhabi after they were humbled 2-0 at home by Middlesbrough in the FA Cup.
The Premier League champions, FA Cup finalists in two of the past four seasons, were well beaten on Saturday by a Middlesbrough side currently second in the division below them.
City decided to take the seven-hour return flight from the Middle East on Friday and the squad were pictured leaving Manchester Airport at 2000 GMT, just 19 hours before kick-off against Middlesbrough.
But Pellegrini refused to accept that the training camp in the United Arab Emirates, where City’s super-rich owners are based, had had any bearing on the result.
“I don’t think so. I don’t agree,” the Chilean told journalists at the Etihad Stadium. “You can have your opinion, but I have a different opinion because we had six or seven clear chances to score a goal.
“I repeat, you can have different reasons for a result. You must analyse the game, but if you think that’s the reason, I have a different opinion about that.”
Nevertheless, furious City fans took to social media to express their dissatisfaction, ahead of a visit to league leaders Chelsea next weekend that could leave their side eight points off the pace in the title race.
“We don’t have any problem with motivation,” said Pellegrini, whose side had lost 2-0 at home to Arsenal in their previous home game. “We are going to work hard and hope that we can win that game at Stamford Bridge.
“It is not normal for us not to score for the last two games here at home, but that is for football reasons more than Abu Dhabi and other things that you are talking about (regarding) this defeat.
“The problem is we had to change our style because we didn’t have any strikers fit for around a month. After that, the strikers are coming back and they need time to have their best performance and we have to return to the way we normally play. Maybe we need some time.”
– Outstanding –
City have now conceded two goals in four of their last five games and fit-again club captain Vincent Kompany does not look back to his best in the heart of his team’s defence.
But City are also failing to score goals and convert chances.
Against Boro, they found stand-in goalkeeper Tomas Mejias in outstanding form and were then duly beaten by goals from Patrick Bamford and Kike.
“I am concerned, not because it’s the Chelsea game coming up,” Pellegrini added. “I’m concerned because in the last two games we haven’t scored at home and in the last four games we have conceded two goals.
“We need to adjust to what we were doing in December and recover the performances we were doing then, in attack and defence.”
Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka, in charge of the north-east club for just 14 months, understandably considered the victory the best of his short spell in English football.
He also said that, unlike the hosts, his side had done nothing out of the ordinary in their preparations for the tie.
“No, it was a normal Championship week for us,” said the former Real Madrid defender. “We had three games in one week, so the best way to prepare for the games is by playing and resting.
“We have won the three games and that’s because we rested and have a squad where you can find 11 players ready to play.”